site menu spacer East Timor Action Network Urges Indonesia to Schedule Referendum and Withdraw Troops

For Immediate Release
Contact: John M. Miller (718)596-7668,  

Recent statements from Jakarta offer some hope that Indonesia is finally ready to recognize East Timorese aspirations by allowing independence. However, these statements by Information Minister Yunus Yosfiah and Foreign Minister Ali Alatas raise as many questions as expectations. The real proof of Indonesia’s intentions will be its actions in the coming weeks.

While government officials deliberate over East Timor’s status, the situation in the territory remains dire. Recent events, especially the arming of paramilitary vigilante groups by the Indonesian military, are exacerbating conflict which would make the holding of a referendum or a peaceful political transition impossible. In a recent example reported by the East Timor Human Rights Centre, members of the Indonesian military and armed civilian militia attacked the village of Galitas on January 25, killing of four; six others have disappeared. Such attacks in remote areas of East Timor have resulted in a flood of internal refugees into Dili and elsewhere in East Timor.

Foreign Minister Ali Alatas has said that if East Timor rejects Indonesia’s autonomy offer, he would suggest that the Indonesian parliament consider granting East Timor independence. But independence is East Timor’s legal and moral right it is not up to the Indonesian parliament to decide.

If Indonesia is sincere about respecting the wishes of the East Timorese, it can show good faith by immediately implementing the following measures. This week’s United Nations talks on the territory provide one forum at which Indonesia could announce its plans to:

1) Immediately withdraw its troops and set a timetable for a UN-supervised referendum on self-determination.

2) Allow a permanent United Nations presence to monitor human rights abuses, guarantee genuine Indonesian military withdrawals and work with the East Timorese to prepare a referendum on self-determination. Non-governmental organizations, media and independent human rights monitors should be allowed free and full access to the territory. This international presence would also act as a restraint on further Indonesian-initiated violence against civilians.

3) End human rights abuses, and stop distributing weapons to local militias and paramilitaries, and disband these groups.

4) Free all political prisoners, including Xanana Gusmão. Indonesia has said it will transfer Xanana to a form of house arrest, but he and other East Timorese political prisoners need to be freed to participate in negotiations and take part in the political development of their homeland. Moving Xanana to a larger prison cell is not enough.

The East Timor Action Network (ETAN) skepticism voiced today by East Timorese leaders José Ramos-Horta and Roque Rodrigues. We join Bishop Belo (who won the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with Ramos-Horta) in calling for a referendum.

ETAN supports genuine self-determination and human rights for the people of East Timor and democracy in Indonesia. Last October, ETAN and others released leaked Indonesian military documents proving increased troop levels in East Timor, despite Indonesian government claims of withdrawals.

On December 7, 1975, the Indonesian military brutally invaded East Timor. The following July, East Timor was illegally but formally “integrated” into Indonesia as its “27th province.” The UN and most of the world’s countries do not recognize this act, and the East Timorese reject it. According to human rights groups and the Catholic Church more than 200,000 people one-third of the pre-invasion population have been killed by the Indonesian occupation forces.

January 27, 1999